Freddy Fixer Makes A Joyful Return To Dixwell Avenue

Lucy Gellman & Abiba Biao | June 5th, 2023

Freddy Fixer Makes A Joyful Return To Dixwell Avenue

Black excellence  |  Culture & Community  |  Dixwell  |  Arts & Culture  |  Newhallville  |  Arts & Anti-racism  |  Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade

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Top: ECFFPC Board Member Petisia Adger, Committee VP Tracey Joseph and her son Nicholas, President Chanelle Goldson with her daughter Brooke, Donald Carter, and Diane Brown. Bottom: Members of Hillhouse's marching band prepare to step off. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

It was the growl of the snare drum, flutes and trumpets wailing to the heavens, that made it feel like Dixwell Avenue had a heartbeat. At the front of the line, dancers came alive in their pearlescent leotards and calf-high boots, cheers erupting from both sides of the street. A few rows behind them, the James Hillhouse Marching Band was ready for showtime. 

Somewhere, a clock was counting down the seconds. By the time organizers waved in the march and the band stepped off in a sea of blue and white, it was nearly impossible to stay still. 

Sunday afternoon, the Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade made a triumphant return to Dixwell Avenue, where thousands of attendees and hundreds of participants welcomed back New Haven’s long-running celebration of Black community, neighborhood preservation, and New Haven pride that has blossomed over generations of marchers. For the first time since 2019, a spirit of deep, jubilant community care carried the parade, which traveled the mile and a half from Visels Pharmacy to Lake Place.   

In total, 67 groups participated, from mid-routine drill and dance teams and high school marching bands to social service organizations to historic parade partners who have been marching—and in some cases, revving their engines along the route—for decades. Among them include former Mayor Toni Harp, who marched with her family as Grand Marshal. 

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Top: Amistad cheerleaders march alongside the Howling Symphony of Soul. Bottom: Members of the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated Alexandria Lawrence, Dawn Ragsdale, Paula Irvin, Cynthia Farmer Streeter, DeLandra Grey and Aldréa Deyo. Lucy Gellman Photos.

“It went amazing!,” said Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade Committee (ECFFPC) President Chanelle Goldson, who praised committee Vice President Tracey Joseph, dedicated board members, and a team of volunteers without whom the parade would not have happened. “It was like, everybody was all smiles, and very high energy. It was all worth it, seeing it today, and especially seeing the kids perform. We’re just so happy and excited. I feel like I can’t even summarize it. We came back.”

Goldson added that she was glad to see the parade return as a safe and family-friendly event. In 15 months she and board members have spent building back the parade, she’s heard concerns from fellow parents and community members about violence—and worried about it as a mother and a Newhallville resident herself. Sunday, the only thing she saw was joy, which seemed to abound in dance moves, drum beats and at least five genres of music pumped from respective speakers. 

Even before the parade stepped off on Dixwell Avenue, that excitement buzzed and crackled through the air, warding off any chance of rain beneath a low-hanging sky. On Dixwell just before Gibbs Street, lifelong New Havener Tanya (she declined to give her last name) and her granddaughter Ryleigh pulled out matching red lawn chairs and a low table, staking out a front-row seat to the action. 

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Top: Members of the Annie M. Bolden Youth Group. Bottom: Jackie Vera, Gwen McCrea and Jamie Stevenson of Elm City Communities. Lucy Gellman Photos.

As she watched tow trucks haul away cars along the avenue, Tanya remembered what it was like to grow up with the Freddy Fixer—and then to have the parade disappear three years ago. For decades, the Freddy was her mom’s favorite tradition, and the two would watch it together. In the seven years since she has passed on, Tanya’s taken it on herself to keep the tradition alive. She said that Sunday marked her first parade—but hopefully not her last—with her grandchildren. 

“This means a lot for the Black community,” she said. “A lot of things are taken away from Black people like we don’t matter. This is important. To come together, to have this back for us, to have something positive happening, that’s great.” 

“I just put a prayer over this parade that there’s no violence today,” she added as Ryleigh ran over and embraced her. “I said, ‘This year, I’m gonna come out to support.’ It’s important to show our kids.”

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Top: Members of Amistad's Exclusive Royalty Drill team. Bottom: Maya Johnson. Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Closer to the hum and bustle of parade staging, Dixwell Avenue resident Maya Jackson was setting up a table with her next door neighbor, wrapping a sweater around her shoulders in the unexpected mid-morning chill. The head chef at High School in the Community, she said she was excited to see the parade come back, and was wishing “good success” and growth of the event. 

As people passed in matching t-shirts and jackets, some with rolled-up banners in hand, Jackson smiled and waved hello. Two hours later, she was still there, cheering with dozens of neighbors as marchers passed by. 

At Bassett Street, that pre-parade exhilaration grew to a roar, as close to a dozen drumlines hammered out a final practice round. As they made their way toward a registration table on the side of Visels Pharmacy, mother-daughter duo Cynthia Farmer Streeter and Sabrina Streeter prepared to march with the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc., which has a thriving chapter in New Haven. 

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Top: Cynthia Farmer Streeter, Rosetta Washington, and Sabrina Streeter. Bottom: The scene on Bassett. Lucy Gellman Photos.

By the time the parade stepped off 90 minutes later, close to a dozen members had gathered in a coordinated display of yellow and red. While Farmer Streeter is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.—the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of which was marching—she said she came out to march with the NANBPWC because of its long record of service and her own leadership within the organization. She added that the return was a homecoming of sorts: she brought Sabrina to the parade for years as a young child. 

In the empty lot between Wing Madness and People’s Choice Grocery & Deli, the James Hillhouse Marching Band had snapped into action, every eye trained on band director Joshua Smith. As the bass drums set a steady beat, musicians began to sway from side to side, hips rocking as they played. For a moment, it seemed like their whole bodies had become metronomes, keeping the tempo of the morning.  

Encircled by a half-moon of horns and woodwinds, Smith marched in place, lifting a huge trombone in one hand even as he conducted. To a cry of “Ayyyy Ohhhh!” from the band, Smith raised the instrument to his lips, and began to work the slide. The deep, brassy sound sailed over the cracked asphalt and onto the sidewalk, bathing half a dozen drill teams in the sound. 

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Top: Joshua Smith and George Chin. Bottom: Patricia E. Kelly of the Ebony Horsewomen. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Born and raised in New Haven, Smith said he’s glad to see the Freddy spring back to life, particularly because the parade was a fixture of his childhood. As a kid, he marched with members of the Walter Pop Smith Little League, making his way down Dixwell Avenue on legs that were tinier than some of the instruments he now plays. In high school, he marched with Hillhouse, ushering in what would become years of teaching and musical mentorship.   

“It’s an amazing feeling, even as we’re still rebuilding,” he said. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted his former Hillhouse classmate George Chin, a member of the Firebirds Society of Greater New Haven. Because he often works Sundays—meaning that he’s historically missed the Freddy—Chin said he was also excited to be marching in the parade for the very first time.

Next door at People’s Choice was the Elite Drill Squad and Drum Corps, who were getting ready to participate in their second Freddy Fixer in their bright blue and orange uniforms. The last time the group marched was 2019; this year they took home the first place award for best drill team. 

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FreddyFixer2023 - 18Top: Elite does its thing. Bottom: Members of Amistad's Exclusive Royalty Drill team. Lucy Gellman Photos.

“It feels really good to be back,” said CEO and director Ryshon Menafee. “I feel like this time we're coming better than we was before.” 

While Menafee was excited, “I feel like I'm more excited than the kids,” he said. This year, they came into the parade with spiffy new uniforms and members who have joined since 2019. In fact, this year's cohort consisted of more newer kids than old members.

Menafee attributed this year's routine and training strategy to the “friendly rivalry” between the other drill groups in the parade. For Elite, it keeps them motivated and helps them set goals.

Menafee said that training the kids, who come with varying degrees of drill experience, was difficult—but nothing he couldn’t handle. He was proud of them for learning the “discipline, dedication, integrity, sportsmanship” that are all part of the program. 

“I want them to be able to take away the memories and the experiences that we had all the different types of trips, the memories we had at practice,” he said. “ I just want it to be a nice experience for them.”

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Top: ECFFPC Communications Coordinator Stacy Graham-Hunt with Barbara Green and her 14-month-old son, Kori. Bottom: The Governors' Marching Band. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Back at a table for volunteers, publicist Stacy Graham-Hunt chatted with Barbara Green, a super volunteer whose mission also included cheering on her sister, Chanelle Goldson. Growing up in Newhallville, Green came to the parade for years, knowing that she would see friends and family members gathered to celebrate in the streets. 

Now, she said, she wants to pass that on to the next generation—including her 14-month-old son, Kori. She praised the new, all-woman team of leaders who have passed a baton for one generation to the next. They include not only her sister and Joseph, but lifelong New Haveners Diane Brown, Jacqui Glover and Petisia Adger. 

“It was like a family reunion,” she said of the parade, which she attended for decades. “It’s exciting, seeing the legacy live on.”

As he made his way through a growing crowd, Newhallville-raised WYBC host Darryl Huckaby also remembered attending and marching in the parade as a young kid, and knowing that he was part of New Haven history.

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Top: Cheryl Lytell and Darryl Huckaby. Bottom: New Haven Pride Center Youth Services Coordinator Ta’LannaMonique Lawson-Dickerson (in the green) with her son, Camren. "I'm so glad this is back," she said. "This is what we needed. This is like, Black excellence right here." Lucy Gellman Photos.

When he moved back to New Haven six years ago, it was one of the events he most looked forward to. In 2019, he took the grandstand with his mom. Four years and a global pandemic later, he was thrilled to be back.  

“It was one of the biggest events for the Black community in New Haven,” he said, embracing volunteer Cheryl Lytell, whose dad used to own the Cardinal’s Club Cafe on Henry Street, and sponsor a float in the parade. “It was a thing that we looked forward to every year. It feels great to have it back.”

“I feel a duty to the city that helped raise me,” he added. Half an hour later, attendees could see that feeling in action as he slowly made his way down Dixwell Avenue in a truck emblazoned with lettering for “DeDe In The Morning,” which runs from 5 to 10 a.m. every weekday on WYBC. 

Further back, members of the Ebony Horsewomen Inc. (EHI) warmed up their animals, horses’ coats glistening even under the cloudy sky. Seated on a black-and-white thoroughbred, EHI Founder Patricia E. Kelly scanned the avenue, her eyes calm beneath the wide brim of her black cowboy hat. Behind her, strains of salsa floated through the air from La Isla, which recently celebrated a year in business on Dixwell Avenue. 

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Top: Members of the New Haven Health Department. Bottom: Sisters  Serenity and Aniyah Tarver. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Just half a block away, members of the Howling Symphony of Soul and Wolfpack Dynasty Drumline—both of Amistad Achievement First High School—gathered into a tight huddle that lived up to their name. As students pumped each other up, Director Kjay Smith remembered marching in the parade himself, including during his years at Hillhouse. In high school, he marched alongside Joshua Smith. Now, “I’m super excited” to return as a mentor.   

“Hillhouse is the reason that I’m here,” he said as the Exclusive Royalty Drill Team ran through their routine nearby. “Music saved me from the streets. It saved my life. I always felt that I had a duty to come back [to teach].”

A momentary stillness fell over Dixwell Avenue as committee members made their way to the front of the line, which stretched back to Elizabeth Street and wrapped around Bassett Street all the way to Shelton Avenue. Between them, there were three generations of parade-goers, with the youngest still on pint-sized legs. 

As they stood at attention, waiting for the parade to begin, hundreds of people watched from the sidewalk, some already cheering. Goldson lifted her daughter Brooke into her arms, as if to show the legacy living on in real time.

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Top: Grand Marshal and former Mayor Toni N. Harp with her family. Bottom: Members of ConnCAT and ConnCORP. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Then, with the revving of engines and drumbeats that echoed to Shelton Avenue and Cherry Ann Street, the parade was off. As groups made their way down Dixwell, thousands of attendees cheered from the sidewalks, some dancing in place to the sweet sound of drum lines and marching bands. Overhead, the sun tried to peek out from the clouds, temporarily succeeding. 

If a viewer took their eyes off the street for even a moment, they missed something. One moment, it was the Hillhouse band, a syncopated bounce of blue and white that later won best marching unit. Two or three breaths later, it was Harp and her family, gliding down the avenue with waving skills that put the Royal Family to shame. The next, it was the Exclusive Royalty Drill team, their pom poms arcing through the air in synchronized motion as their costumes glittered beneath the sky.  

The action was just getting started. With a saunter in their step, the Village Drill Team and Drum Corps took over Dixwell with their fiery moves and high energy. 


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Top: The Village Drill Team and Drum Corps. Abiba Biao Photo. Bottom: Shani Knox. Lucy Gellman Photo.

From their stellar performance, one wouldn’t have guessed that it was their first Freddy Fixer. To Tayvon Berryman, CEO and director of the Village Drill Team, the parade was history for the city and a way to remind the younger generation of New Haven pride. 

“They don't know some of the sacrifices that were made by their aunts, uncles, grandfathers and those that came before so we just want to come back to show that support of what has been laid as a foundation for the community,” he said. 

As he marched with the team, Berryman showed that power through drill. He noted that it teaches the kids discipline and can help with childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles. He added that after growing up in New Haven, he was glad to see the parade come back as a totally safe, family- and kid- friendly event. 

“I think that everybody being here to support what's going on represents that we are a community,” he said. “We are a city that really believes in our own city and believe in everything that's going on here in our community, especially for the youth.”

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Top: Black Lives Matter New Haven, including Isaac Bloodworth, Sun Queen, MiAsia Harris, Marcey Lynn Jones and her nieces, and Ala Ochumare. Bottom: Young members of Nation Drill Squad and Drum Corps. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Back on Bassett Street, groups waited patiently for their turn to enter the parade. There with members of Black Lives Matter New Haven, co-founder Ala Ochumare remembered growing up in Newhallville when the Freddy “was like Mardi Gras.” She called Sunday a cultural rebirth, excited to march with BLMNHV for the first time. By the time they rounded the corner onto the avenue, the group had grown, with young members weaning white fabric roses in their hair. 

Further back the members of Nation Drill and Drum Corps waited patiently for their moment to shine. As he bobbed between them, director Dougie Bethea said it was well worth coming out of retirement for. It marked a full-circle moment: four years ago, Bethea was one of the parade’s honorees. He now runs the group with his daughter, Daleesha Bethea. “It’s so good for the kids,” he said.  

A few yards away, members of Puerto Ricans United, Inc. prepared to march for their first time ever, tiaras glittering in the sunlight as several Miss Teen Puerto Rico and Junior Miss Puerto Rico lined up behind a bright banner. When Goldson first suggested that the group become a partner, PRU President Joe Rodriguez signed on immediately. 

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Top: PRU. Bottom: Members of the Jamaican American Connection, who are gearing up for their own festival on June 24. Lucy Gellman Photos.

“When they reached out, of course we said yes!” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be presente. At the end of the day, the Freddy is about pride. It’s about community. We’re about pride and about community. We’re one community.”   

Back on Dixwell Avenue, members of the Annie M. Bolden Youth Group of Arabic Court No. 95 made their way down the wide street in a wave of orange, with tassel-covered boots to match their t-shirts. The unit, which is affiliated with the Prince Hall Shriners A.E.A.O.N.M.S., works with young women and girls between the ages of seven and 18. 

“Oh my god, it’s wonderful!” said Rhonda Lesane. “We needed this back. We need to come out, to be a family, I hope that it gets bigger and bigger every year.”    

From the sidewalk, sisters Serenity and Aniyah Tarver cheered marchers on as they witnessed their first Freddy Fixer. As young residents of the neighborhood, both described themselves as “excited,” with more favorite parts than they could name.  

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Top: Babz Rawls-Ivy. Bottom: Santana and Nevaé Brightly enjoy the parade. Belito Garcia and  Arden Santana are in the background. Lucy Gellman Photos.   

Closer to the intersection of Dixwell and Ivy Streets, lifelong New Havener Babz Rawls-Ivy danced along as a mix of Beyoncé, salsa, and six different drum lines floated over the street. While she has lived in the city for her whole life, she estimated that it was her first time in two decades back at the parade. 

“When people focus on the problems of New Haven, they need to bring their asses to the Freddy Fixer. Look at all these drill teams and beautiful children!”

Just before the Dixwell Community Q House, Shani Knox busted out her best dance moves as marchers pumped their arms and waved to her. At a stage, MC Majesty shouted out units as they passed, bouncing to tunes that DJ Bink B spun for listeners.

The ECFFPC later announced 14 awards with cash prizes, from the “Freddy Fixer Spirit” to best float, marching unit, and drill team. See all of them here.


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Top: Mother and daughter Christina and Na’Sya Ulysse. Abiba Biao Photo. Bottom: Christina Centeno (in the white), who is new to New Haven, invited friends into town for the weekend. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Walking away from the parade on Goffe Street, mother and daughter Christina and Na’Sya Ulysse debriefed the parade. After experiencing their first Freddy Fixer, both said they they were pleasantly shocked with Ulysse describing it as “a good atmosphere.” 

Ulysse's favorite part was seeing Nation Drill Squad and Drum Corps performing, she said while her daughter enjoyed the hot dogs.

“I grew up going to drill team competitions in my adolescent years so seeing them perform is always nice,” Ulysse said. She urged people to come on out for the next Freddy Fixer and participate. 

“Bring a folding chair, a beach chair, whatever you call it, because you're gonna want to sit down,” Ulysse said. “Definitely come out and enjoy it!”

Watch scenes from the Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade here and here